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hunger drives them to brigandage.

They are more or less fanatical, but not practising,
Mahommedans and have always been ready to follow
fresh schisms. They eat the flesh of the wild pig.
But, although they do not give a slavish obedience to
the precepts of the Koran, they pay much respect and
give in to their marabouts, who are almost a priestly
caste like the Brahmins of India by virtue of their

The position of Berber women in Kabylia, the
Aures or elsewhere, is not enviable. They are the of their husbands, or male relatives if
unmarried, must labour in the fields or as beasts of
burden. They cannot inherit property or indeed
own any. They are only entitled to subsistence and
clothes which latter they must make for themselves.
Although allowed to be unveiled they have little
more freedom than Arab women. Their only
recreation is the daily gossip at the fountain when
young and old gather there to draw water in earthen-
ware vessels shaped like the amphora of the Romans
from whom their forebears learned the design.
Berber females are reputed very immoral, which
accounts for the fact that their husbands are notoriously
jealous. They know ttyeir women-folk.

The Kabyles group in families or kharoubas,
several of which make a hamlet or touffik. The
touffiks of a district form the thaddert or village, and
several thadderts make up the tribe. They used to be
autonomous. Each yillage or tribe had its djemaa or
council, which was the centre of power. It was the

folk-mote of which every male adult was a member,
and which elected its president, the amin. The presi-
dents of a district or of a number of tribes banding
together for war formed an inner djemaa and chose the
amin amina, the president of presidents But the
decisions of either council were only binding so far as
they could be enforced. This ancient system was
allowed to exist under French rule, until, as a punish-
ment for the Kabyles' insurrection in 1871, it was
taken from them and they came directly under French
administrators. But they are still permitted to have
their special tribal laws known as kanoums.

They have always been fierce warriors, and were
never conquered by Roman, Vandal, Arab, or Turk,
and they fought savagely for their independence
against the French. They were guilty of cruel
atrocities against the European settlers in the last
rebellion, for which they suffered the confiscation of
the land that they are now buying back.

They are superstitious, and believe firmly in
second sight. But the future generation will perhaps
be more enlightened ; for, unlike the Arabs, their boys
greedily seek the education that the Algerian
Government offer them.

A distinguished member of the Societe de
Geographic of Algiers, Captain Raymond Peyronnet
of the Algerian Army, a noted authority on North
Africa, disputes the figures of the census of 1911 which
declared the native population to consist of 3,626,574
Arabs and Arabic-speaking races, and 1,084,702
Berbers, comprising Kabyles, Mozabites, and
Touaregs. He believes and his opinion carries


weight that of the present population of nearly five
million and a half native inhabitants, a little more than
half are of Berber stock. In Grand Kabylia alone,
between Menerville and the Soumam, there are nearly
five hundred thousand Kabyles.

The Kabyles are better liked and respected by
Europeans who come much in contact with them than
are the Arabs. It is but natural that they should have
more affinity with white men; for, besides their far-
away European origin, there is the mixture of Roman,
Vandal, and Byzantine blood in their veins, greatly
diluted, of course.

Owing to its proximity to Algiers Grand Kabylia
is much visited by foreign travellers ; and, besides the
railway to the capital, Tizi Ouzou, and the regular
service of motor diligences, tourist agencies run
automobile excursions to and through it frequently.
Its seaport, Bougie, is a thriving one, though fallen
from its high estate of the eleventh century when it
held a population of a hundred thousand.

It is usually the foreign visitor's first introduction
to the interior, and fills him with a sense of adventure
as he leaves the city and the sea behind and is carried
towards the lofty range of mountains that have
tantalised him with the constant sight of their snowy
peaks during his stay in the Algerian capital. It
seems as though one were about to explore an
attractively new land peopled by a strange race. The
railway station of Algiers, from which all trains go out
bound east, west or south, is built down by the
harbour; and one descends to it from the Boulevards
above the wharves by the steep zigzag roads or the


giant lifts in the tall stone towers that are such
prominent objects on the " front." At first the line
runs between the harbour on the left and the high wall
that rises like a cliff to the climbing city; but soon
the docks and wharves giy.e place to the sandy beach
and sparkling waters of the bay, while the level space
on the right, crowded with the warehouses and
factories of the manufacturing district of Belleville,
grows wider as the Sahel Hills draw back, their scarred
and scarped sides crowned with green fields and
gardens set with red-roofed, white-walled villas.
Then buildings below yield to the verdant, luxuriant
foliage of the Jardin d'Essai, its palms contrasting
with the dark pines of the Bois de Boulogne topping
the hill above. At Hussein Dey, on the level between
the railway and the sea aloe hedges, cacti and high
pampas grass strike a tropical note in the scenery;
while on the right the line of hills runs on with fewer
houses and more cultivation. But it ends where it
sinks into the narrow valley of the Harrach river at
Maison Carree, a bright little business town of
factories and houses with gardens ablaze with flowers,
and a low knoll crowned with a prison.

Here our train turns away from the sea and the
valley opens, giving a view of a fertile inland plain
backed by the wall of the mountains. We are entering
the rich Mitidja valley rioting in vines, oats and corn.
And in the fields Kabyle labourers and white men are
cutting the crops. It seems early for it for to-day is
the 6th May. But we are south of the Mediterranean.
Everywhere there are sheets of wild flowers of all
hues. The peonies in the garden of the little station


of Oued-Smar are a blaze of colour. Among the
vines tall palms lift their plumed heads, ornamental
but as unproductive as the flowers ; for these trees need
the Saharan climate to bear well.

In the field near the station of Maison Blanche a
white bird stalks solemnly the first stork to be seen,
for its race ayoids Algiers; although elsewhere in
Algeria in breeding time their nests crown every
church tower and minaret, and in Constantine no roof
in the native town is without the bundle of dry sticks
from which little heads and gaping beaks greet the
long-legged parents.

After Maison Blanche more vineyards; and low,
well-cultivated hills run along on the right. Every-
where fine farms, their red roofs and whitewashed
walls showing up against the universal green ; and the
owners' residences are often splendid villas set in
lovely gardens. Wells with machine-pumps provide
water. Between the lines of half-grown yines
Europeans or Kabyles are ploughing with mixed
teams of horses, bullocks and mules yoked together.
The landscape is seamed with long straight lines of
trees bordering the good roads with the usual traffic
of automobiles, heavy wagons, motor diligences and
little donkeys bearing tall natives.

Here is Rouiba, a fine little inland town which
looks newly-built, though the large cemetery says
otherwise. On all sides gardens gay with flowers.
Here are glossy-leaved banana trees; and eucalyptus
is seen everywhere. Apparently no railway station
in Algeria is considered complete without a bunch of
these ragged-barked, melancholy trees.


At Reghaia we are getting into undulating and
wilder country as we draw nearer the big hills. To
the left there is a sudden glimpse of the sea. Then
we run through a forest with many cork-oaks. After
Alma come hillocks that are the first outposts of the
mountains; and soon we are among the foothills,
which are carefully cultivated. But a steep green
slope oy_er the railway blazes with pink, purple,
yellow and white flowers and the bright red of the
poppy. Then come sheets of purple thistles. Just
before Belle Fontaine the fields of growing corn, here
still green, ripple in the wind like shot silk. The
garden of the station is bounded by high hedges of
glorious geraniums. As the line winds on among the
foothills the main road that keeps the railway line
company is bordered in one place by an extraordinarily
long hedge of red roses; and by it goes a clumsy
horse diligence packed in and out with natives. The
red garments of Berber girls working on the land
adds to the varied colour of the scene.

Hitherto we have been passing through big
European-owned farms where everything is on a
large scale; but now we begin to be among the small
Kabyle fields which the barelegged owners are
ploughing with rough wooden ploughs drawn by
undersized bullocks. We cross a deep ravine in
which is a mill-house with a huge water-wheel; and
in the garden, watching the train go above them, are
the French miller and his wife, while a young Kabyle
nursemaid in red holds their baby.

After Haussonvilliers the hills open and disclose
a glorious panorama as the line sweeps around them



above a wide valley through which the River Sebaou
meanders. And beyond rise up the snow-clad
Djurdjura Mountains that have been hidden from
our sight for a long time, now so near that we can dis-
tinguish terraced fields, villages and woods climbing
up towards the white peaks shining in the brilliant

The little station at Mirabeau would delight a
painter with its vine-wreathed building and the high
hedges of scarlet geraniums enclosing the tiny garden
in which grow orange and banana trees, while a
graceful palm outside it contrasts with a group of
eucalyptus which a white stork soars. Then
comes a long, tree-lined, dusty white road which with
the grass huts beside it, herds of goats, a tethered
donkey, clumps of thorny cactus and the red garments
of passing Berber women in the bright sunshine
brings back to my mind so many pictures of India.

Flocks of storks follow men ploughing in the
fields of a large European farm. After a patch of
jungle thick with willows we see above us up in the
hills a hamlet with a little church, looking like a bit
of Italy so alike is scenery the world over. Then
we are near the Sebaou River again. The cool air,
grateful after the heat of the valleys, tells us that we
are among the mountains, as we run into the terminus
of the line, having taken four hours for the journey
of sixty-seven miles.

Tizi Ouzou the name sounds like a fragment of
lovers' or fond mother's talk is quite an important
little place as the capital of Upper Kabylia and the
seat of a sub-prefecture, with a good hotel, a Catholic


church and a mosque. Situated at a height of eight
or nine hundred feet above the sea on the slopes of
Djebel (or Mount) Belloua it is a centre for the
Kabyles' export trade of oil, olives and figs and
fruit which flows down to it from the mountains

But the traveller will not delay in it but pass
through to the native quarter on the hillside beyond
it, usually his first sight of a Kabyle village. It is
a typical collection of low whitewashed stone or
mudwalled huts with red-tiled roofs and small
gardens with cactus or dry reed hedges divided by
narrow lanes furrowed deep by the heavy rains. It
resembles an Indian village, even to the filth and foul
smells that possess it and the bright-eyed children
playing in the dirty alleys. Here are a group of
little girls clad in girdled, flowered cotton gowns and
wearing many silver ornaments. They are playing a
game of " tig." There three or four small boys clad
simply in red checchias and shirts toddle with a
gravity befitting their grandfathers down the principal
lane. A woman goes by in red and black garments,
carrying on her back, holding it over her shoulder,
a red-painted clay water-jar modelled on a Roman
amphora ornamented with designs and hayjng two
handles. At the fountain she lays it down and
gossips with the other women and girls already there
awaiting their turn to fill their graceful vessels.

In an open space among the huts men are sitting
on the ground with their backs against the walls, some
drinking cups of coffee filled from a copper pot
balanced over a few embers by an open-air .vendor.


Into the clearing lounges a drummer who squats
near the rest and with his hand beats the parchment-
covered end of his instrument made from a hollow
gourd. From a hut near by comes an echo, the
monotonous tapping of another drum amidst the
" yu-yu-yu-ing " of women, the strange, soft sound of
cheering and applause that Arab and Berber women
make by waggling their tongues in their open mouths.
Probably a wedding or some other family feast is
being celebrated in the hut. Four or five men come
into the village from their fields, mattocks or hoes
on their shoulders. All have laced canvas sandals or
foot-bandages, such as one sees on the peasants in the
Balkan States. One or two wear wide straw hats, the
others checchias or turbans of coloured cloths twisted
round their checchias.

The village mosque looks S/ 4 ery unorthodox; for
unlike the sealed pattern white dome it has a gabled
and red-tiled roof, over which rises the minaret.
While I was photographing it one afternoon the
village school broke up for the day and a score of
boys of all ages and in various apparel from well-
made European jackets and trousers and leather shoes
to cotton nightgowns and bare feet, but all wearing
the red checchias, gathered about me. They began
to talk to me in good French.

One aged about thirteen or fourteen said :

" Will you photograph me, m'sieu? How much
a dozen do you charge? "

While I was politely declining to make a bargain,
another said boastingly in French to a small friend
beside him :


" I paid fifteen francs a dozen for my photos in

When I wished to take a group of them they
fought to be in it and each one endeavoured to get
into the front rank. In Algeria neither Berbers nor
Arabs object to being photographed; unlike in
Morocco where the Moslem inhabitants consider it
contrary to the law of the Koran that forbids the
making of images or pictures of living beings.

A few little girls had gathered to watch the
proceedings; but when I attempted to take a picture
of them they fled in alarm amidst the jeers of the boys.

From the village there was a fine view across the
narrow valley of the Sebaou to the steep green,
cultivated and wooded line of hills beyond ; and over
them peeped distant snowy summits In the fore-
ground the European village with its houses and
gardens, its church and a new mosque built on the
orthodox plan, sloped down.

Every Saturday morning a fair is held at Tizi
Ouzou to which flock the dwellers in mountains and
plains all round. As many as ten thousand attend
it ; and the big, tree-shaded fairground near the station
is crowded with the turbaned Kabyle men their
women do not come. In tents large and small, new
and old, under brushwood shelters or laid on the
ground in the open, the dealers set out their wares.
I noted among them sellers of cotton goods, of
haberdashery, socks and soap, of carpets and rugs,
of matches and cigarette papers, of leather amulets
blessed by marabouts, of Arabic printing prayers or
passages from the Koran and pictures of Mecca,


of famous mosques or of Moslem heroes. Here
were two men bargaining over a heap of fresh-
clipped wool. There a blacksmith shod donkeys.
Open-air coffee stalls did a roaring trade, their
customers squatting on the ground around the
brazier on which the pots were heated. There a man
sold leather shoes and red peppers, a curious

The owner of a peepshow knelt at prayers,
prostrating himself at full length on the ground,
rising, bowing and kneeling again, so absorbed in his
devotions that he failed to see the small boys
relieving each other at the peepholes of his show and
enjoying the free entertainment.

One corner of the spacious fairground was rilled
with herds of cattle and flocks of sheep; and
the Kabyle farmers poked the animals with their
sticks and felt them in the way of farmers the world
over. And close by numbers of cows were being
slaughtered and their carcases cut up and sold by
butchers, until the air reeked with the acrid smell of
blood. Little donkeys were being driven off bearing
whole quarters of fresh killed beef on their saddles.

Very few Europeans were present at the fair ; and
it was a proof of the efficacy of French pacification to
see an occasional white woman moving freely alone
and in safety among these thousands of native men.

From Tizi Ouzou an excellent road, originally
made in twenty days by the French troops in 1847
and now considerably improved and shortened from
twenty-three to seventeen miles, slopes down to the
valley, crosses the winding Sebaou river pn two bridges


and climbs 2,300 feet up through Kabyle villages to
Fort National. This fortified town was first called
Fort Napoleon the natives term it in Arabic Souk-el-
Arba, or "Wednesday's Market." Perched 3,000
feet above the sea it was built in 1857 to control the
restless Kabyle tribes in the hill villages around. It
is most picturesquely situated on the steep slopes and
precipices ; and the views over valley and mountain are
superb. In winter it can be very cold, and snow covers
it with a white mantle.

A charming road leads to Michelet twelve and a
half miles away, whence the traveller can continue on
to reach a railway again and by it leave Kabylia behind.
But not the Kabyles ; for wherever good money is to be
earned by hard work the men of that industrious race
will be found throughout Algeria.



A GIANT rock a thousand feet high and on it a city. On
two sides it towers up above the valley ; but north and
east a deep ravine separates it from another rock higher
Still. And down that ravine between sheer cliffs of
gleaming stone, under monster natural bridges and
man-made slenderer ones, tumbling through lofty dark
caverns and rushing out into the light again to leap in
cascades is a river. Rummel, the River of Sands!
And in the terrific chasm that it has carved for itself
through the ages it flows half round this city of Constan-
tine that it has guarded against Roman, Arab, Turk
and Frenchman.

Not always successfully, though. The town got
its name from the great Emperor who captured it in the
fourth century in one of the many sieges that it has
undergone four score of them. The last two were laid
by the French. They were beaten the first time in
1836 it was. But they came back again the next year
with more success. There is a painting of the taking
of Constantine in Versailles among the splendid battle
pictures that illustrate the conquest of Algeria. But
the capture was a difficult task; how difficult you will
realise if you look across the thousand foot-deep gorge
of the Rummel, and even more if you climb down into it



and look up at the wall of rock rising sheer above you
to the houses built on the very brink. Then you
wonder how it was ever captured before aeroplanes
were invented.

The man-made bridges across the abyss are wonder-
ful. There is one of many arches perched on piers
colossally high. There is another that swings across
the void like a spider's thread a graceful suspension
bridge this, 670 feet above the river and 180 yards long.
There are the remains of one dating back many
centuries with a wide-arched iron one above it.

It is an important city this, worthy of its long
history, of the great Emperor whose name it bears.
It had its own Bey in the days when the French
attacked it.

If you want to go from Algiers to Tunis by railway
you must pass through Constantine; and as the trains
run, it will keep you for a night at least. But it is
worth a longer stay. Even in the days of the Arabs
it was a fine city, as you can see for yourself ; for most
of the old town remains and the Palace of the last Bey,
El-Hadj Ahmed, built just in time to provide handsome
quarters for the French general, is there to be seen.
So are the old mosques with their white marble columns,
their coloured tiles and their pulpits of carved marble
or cedar. Go into the Cathedral and you will see what
the old-time architects and workmen of Constantine
could do ; for it was the mosque of the Market of the
Gazelle once. Look at its arabesques, its carvings, its
tiles of many colours. They were artists indeed!

You can go to Constantine from the seaport
Philippeville, a thriving town built by the French who


found it a heap of old ruins it used to be the Roman
city of Rusicade which is fifty-four miles away. The
train takes over three hours to do the journey, for it has
to climb up and down the mountains that lie between
the sea and Constantine 2,500 feet higher. You can
go from Algiers nearly 290 miles away, or from Tunis,
about the same distance.

Seen from the railway station, which is on the wrong
side of the gorge of the Rummel, this city on a rock
presents a picture of red-tiled houses sloping to the very
edge of a sheer precipice, every roof, every chimney
crowned in breeding time with a stork's nest, a bundle
of dry sticks on which a black and white feathered
body squats, while its mate flaps heavily just over your
head on his way to look for the family's daily bread in
the field below. As you drive or walk across one of the
bridges you gaze down into the gloomy depths and
scarce can see the river tumbling over its rocky bed
well-nigh a thousand feet below. Across the bridge
the red-roofed, stork-crowned houses of the native
quarter close in on you on the right, contrasting with
the imposing buildings of the new French town ahead
of you.

You pass through the loophooled iron gate, flung
open wide nowadays, and enter this City of Contrasts.
Here is a caravanserai of squalid huts beside a patch
of open, muddied ground on the brink of the precipi-
tous slope that falls down towards the river; and
hobbled camels, tethered mules and gangs of patient,
loaded donkeys crowd the narrow level space. And
above it rises the handsome, tall edifice of a very modern
hotel, motor-cars before its door, in front of which the

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hill-city still rises in pretty public gardens, cafes, shops,
high buildings, bordering narrow streets of the Euro-
pean quarter so different to the dark alleys and
tunnelled lanes of the native town unchanged since the
days of the Beys, where the street-life with its shrouded
women haggling across outdoor stalls of vegetables,
scraps of meat, flat loaves or cast-off clothing, might be
in Arabia or Persia.

But the two overlap ; and you can buy from a French
shop, pass a mosque, drink coffee in a cafe maure and
see Jewesses squatting in rows on their doorsteps, all
in the same street. Europeans and native inhabitants
are about equal in numbers 39,391 of the latter to
38,829 of the former, according to the census of

Should you see in Constantine groups of pretty,
dark-eyed little girls with curious conical black hats on
their heads, such as you have hitherto associated with
broomstick-riding ladies, do not fancy that you have
found a seminary of young witches. They are merely
little Jewesses. This was the only town in North
Africa in which I saw this peculiar headgear. It may
have been worn by Israelite women in Tunis, but I did
not notice any with it.

So circumscribed is Constantine, perched on its
rock, that it does not take long to walk round it ; though
ever and anon one must pause to admire the wonderful
views from every point of it here, with a craning of
the neck and an involuntary shiver, a glance into the
fearsome abyss of the Rummel, there a sweeping pano-
rama of plain and distant mountain. Few cities in the
world are so strangely, picturesquely, situated.

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Online LibraryGordon CasserlyAlgeria today → online text (page 9 of 18)